The Miller's Tale

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The Canterbury Tales III: the Miller's Tale (MT) The Miller's Tale is an example of a fabliau, a short humorous narrative genre popular in France starting in the thirteenth century. Fabliaux (the plural), unlike romances, are characterized by greater realism (absence of magical characters and events); a setting in the "here and now " (not the "long ago and far away" of romance); ordinary everyday sorts of characters (who are commoners rather than aristocrats); earthiness of tone and subject matter; an emphasis on the body in all its physicality -- sex, defecation, farting, the appetites -- rather than the emotions or the spiritual; coarse language. They tend to flout authorities of all sorts and are frequently subversive. Characters are often "tricksters" admired for their cleverness rather than their morals (morality is not an issue in most fabliaux); a common theme is the gleeful adultery of a repressed wife and a clever cleric. Chaucer's term for fabliau is a "churl's tale" (cherles tale, Miller's Prologue, line 61, p. 88 in Penguin Classics translation); it is thus implicitly contrasted with the "aristocratic" or "courtly" genre of romance (e.g. the Knight's Tale which immediately precedes it). Do note however that fabliaux are found in the same manuscripts as romances, indicating that they were intended for and enjoyed by the same aristocratic audiences; thus,fabliaux were not in fact the "genre of the lower or middle classes." Keeping these ideas in mind, consider the Miller's contention that his tale will "repay" the Knight's Tale (pp. 86-7,Miller's Prologue line 19; other possible translations of the Middle English word quite are "requite," "avenge" or "be an answer to"). As you read, compare/contrast the Miller's Tale with the medieval romances we have read or learned about (in addition to the Knight's Tale, consider e.g. the Romance of Tristan, the Knight
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